Negotiating a Tenure Track Job Offer

I realize I’m getting out of order with the subjects… since I haven’t even covered the interview yet… but oh well- #$%! happens. I found this excellent post today (with lots of great comments) about this topic over at Drug Monkey. I left a rather lengthy comment-which I will reprint here- just so I don’t have to write it out again in some future post.

From #3 comment Juniorprof said:

this brings me to the practical advice. How do you know what is “reasonable” for salary. Well, first of all, those salary surveys put out by national organizations are next to useless because the categories are so broad. What you should do is start snooping the public Universities similar to where you are seeking a job. Oftimes the salary scales are public info and posted on websites (with some digging).

To which I answer:

As for negotiating salary (specifically in reference to comment #3), you should negotiate salary, but juniorprof- you are quite right about being reasonable and doing your homework. The most compelling reason for this is that there is VAST variability in starting salaries between individuals in the same institution (and even within departments)- so there is very little fairness in the process- those that ask for more usually get more- its as simple as that- but you won’t get a higher salary if you don’t ask for one. Even a small difference in starting salary can make a huge difference in $$ over a lifetime of work- because EVERY raise that you will get is a percentage of your salary…this adds up over a career to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.. And I know- I do science because I love it- not because its a high paying job, but nevertheless- I have student loans myself and two kids I would like to send to college someday… so this all really matters.

Just a note, for public institutions the operating budget is public record, and in some institutions can be had as easily as walking into the library and asking for it. These operating budgets are quite detailed and list the salaries for each individual in the department- and you can go back and figure out what year they were hired, and what their training is -so how well you match up with a particular individual… or you can just look at the last several hires made in a department then figure out based on your training where you fit into these.

Comment #20 Neurowoman said:

‘Can anybody offer any commentary on how negotiating for a spousal accommodation might fit in? I would expect that another reason women’s salaries and startups tend to be lower is that they more often are trying to swing a second appointment, and thus have limited leverage on $$ issues..’

To which I answer:

In reference to comment #20 – about spousal accommodations- this is SO tricky. You should not mention your spouse in your application (even if that person will need an academic appointment)- get your foot in the door first. You should mention your spouse who needs an academic appointment at some time during the first interview, AFTER you have gotten a feeling for the department, and perhaps during a private meeting with the chair- the chair is not allowed (nor is anyone in the department) to ask you about this- but once you mention your spouse- questions by the faculty are fair game. It’s my experience that both the department and the candidate know when the interview is going really well-and because spousal faculty appointments are complicated take TIME to set up, you should give the department as much warning as you can (after they have fallen in love with you, of course). If the department is serious about hiring you, and they know about your spouse in the first interview (and what kind of academic job must be forthcoming)- the second interview is the time that your spouse should be visiting the appropriate departments on campus and giving talks… Some institutions have special monies set aside for spousal hiring- especially those institutions that are actively trying to recruit women – so you need to find out about those kinds of things.

There are probably a lot of reasons for why women’s salary and startups are lower- starting with the fact that women tend to take what is offered, instead of starting a negotiation, the types of institutions women tend to find themselves in etc. I wish I had a good idea how spousal hiring plays into how startup $$ get distributed, but its part of such a complicated equation that its hard to ferret this out…

Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 4)

Here we go again- more unsolicited advice. I was working up to cover letters and which jobs you should apply for when you look at the ads (only to be interrupted by multiple soccer games, all of which were won- but that’s not the point- everyone had fun!).

Cover letters– (also see ‘Application Pkg.’). These letters are your introduction to the search committee, and should be written very carefully. I have seen cover letters that are pages and pages… and I don’t recommend doing this. Search committees are made up of busy busy faculty… who… in addition to their regular jobs generating data/writing papers and such… are now invited to review piles and piles of applications. I recently was on one that reviewed nearly 100 applications, and this was on the lighter side for some of the other searches that I know about going on around campus. So in the letter- state what job you are applying for and how you heard about it. Then, briefly introduce yourself and your work… in such a way as to make the reader WANT to look at the rest of your paperwork. Spelling and Grammar should be immaculate, that goes without saying…

As for what ads you should respond to- here’s my humble unsolicited opinion. You may find out about jobs from various sources, print or online ads or word of mouth, but apply for EVERY job in your field that you seem to fit, DO NOT limit yourself and your options at this early stage!!

First, apply regardless of whether or not you fit EVERY criterion in the ad. It’s pretty rare that the search committee finds the exact candidate that they fantasize about… and in my experience search committees like to entertain really high quality candidates- whether or not they fit the exact description of the position. Take a look at the advertising departments’ web pages- check out their faculty and what they do (Other advice on where to find information about a department/institution can be found here courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education) . I have been on search committees that ended up being wowed by candidates that weren’t at all what was advertised for… and those resulted in multiple hires… so don’t be afraid to send in an application for a job that you don’t completely fit the description for- especially if you know the makeup of the department and think you might find colleagues with overlapping or complementary interests, and a good fit there.

Second, a couple of words about geography- apply for positions regardless of whether or not they are in a geographic area where you want to live. You narrow yourself unnecessarily too early in the search by using geography as a criterion. The goal here is to get a job, and you get an academic job by getting an interview… and preferably multiple interviews, and the deal gets closed when you have a written offer- preferably multiple written offers… and your chances of making this happen are just better if you apply to as many positions as possible.

And third, spouses- this is a tricky subject, but I think doesn’t really impact things at this stage. Of course you and your spouse will talk about these places, but unless you get beyond the interview, don’t limit yourself now…

Live Manuscript

As I wrote a few days ago- I submitted that paper. Its been 18 days…. nothing happens very quickly- hurry up and wait. In the online submission system – when you log in to look at the progress of your manuscript- you have got a folder there marked ‘live manuscript’… I suppose when they send it back rejected another folder appears marked ‘dead manuscript’- or ‘dead manuscript, that might be revived after a miracle’ ? Maybe I’ll have one of those in a few days.

In the meantime though- I am continuously thinking about with the next series of experiments to follow that paper, and I’m drowning in literature. Would it be too obsessive to take my laptop to the soccer games tomorrow…? (my daughter doesn’t like me yelling encouragement from the sidelines anyway)… NO WAIT, don’t answer that. I vaguely recall saying something about real life a few posts ago. Forgot to mention that there are three soccer games, and one birthday party-… which, as luck would have it, overlaps the presentation times of my two students’ talks at the meeting they are attending. I am forcing the family…. yes, including myself…. to take a break on Sunday with moratorium on obligations, appointments and work.

Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 3)

In my last post about looking for an academic job, we were laying the groundwork for applying for positions by deciding (with our advisor of course) which projects to take, preparing a CV, and statements of research interests and teaching. Ok, so now we are ready to move forward.

First, let me point out that there is a seasonality to the academic job search. I don’t mean to say that all post-docs are ready to move on at the same time, what I mean by this is that because many institutions have teaching responsibilities and thus are tied to an academic calendar- they are looking to hire people to arrive on campus when the academic year begins, usually in September (I realize that’s a horrifying run-on sentence, don’t put any of those in your applications!). Because the hiring process takes a long time (nearly a year in most cases) – most positions, and the largest number of positions will be advertised in the preceding fall. What you should realize is that the most positions are advertised between August and November, and then the number of ads drops off significantly. Interviewing will start in December, and continue for a few months, then there will be a round of second interviews and offers in the hope of having candidates hired in the spring or early summer for arrival in the fall. This isn’t ALWAYS how it works, and there will be ads in the off season, so don’t stop looking at them… but in general this is the flow of things. The take home message is: 1. Seasonality to the ads/searches, and 2. Process takes a long time… sometimes up to a year.

Digest that, and I’ll come back and cover … cover letters (if you must read ahead see the ‘Application Pkg’ tab where there is a section on cover letters) and which ads you should respond to…

Women’s Faculty Gatherings…

We have a women’s faculty lunch once a week. This doesn’t include all of the women faculty- obviously- this is a large university, its 5-10 women faculty at all career stages in the biological sciences. We cross 3 departments (not including joint appointments), and know each other pretty well. This lunch is a great venue for support, both moral and scientific, learning the workings of the university, and hearing all the inside news and gossip (and don’t kid yourself, the male faculty do this too- only they do it while drinking beer or playing squash) … who is on the job market, who is being considered for positions in various departments… I love having this support network, it’s so helpful to have women in different stages of their career gather and share information about how ‘the system’ works. This event made me feel a lot less lonely when I was the only tenure-track woman in my department.

But, in many ways I am alone despite this excellent support group. I am the only person in this group with two kids, the only person in this group that didn’t wait for tenure to have children, the only person with 2 kids and a spouse who is also a faculty member… So while the lunch is awesome, I often feel like my experience is so different from the rest and there are a lot of areas where I need guidance but I am completely alone. There is just a void among junior faculty in biological sciences here who are balancing the competing interests of academic science, children, and a partner with a demanding career as well…

GREAT week.

Well, so far its been a great week, and its only tuesday:

1. The paper hasn’t been sent back yet (its been 9 days),… and I cautiously take that as a good sign.

2. One of my star undergraduates was admitted to veterinary school!!!

3. My other star undergraduate was admitted to medical school!!! (Both of these star undergraduates are women, in case you are wondering)

4. Both my postdoc and my most senior graduate student were selected to give oral presentations at a meeting we are attending…!!

4. I started working on the flow chart for the work in my new grant… something I’ve been putting off while other things get done… its great to be thinking about that project though.

Wow, great stuff happens once in a while…

Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 2)

Its tough to know where to start on that list of topics to cover (see ‘suggested topics’ page), but since I have already started on the job search- maybe I’ll just go step-by-step down that road for a while. There are so many areas to cover here, from the initial looking at ads to see what jobs are out there to application packages, search committees, interviewing, negotiating and spousal hiring. When I was going through the job search process – I hung onto this book, ‘Making the Right Moves… bla bla bla’ from HHMI and Burroughs (the full citation is listed under ‘Useful Books’, #5), for dear life. This a terrific book and as available from HHMI for free, either as a download or print copy, – but, although very useful, it just never seemed to go as far into detail as I felt I needed (or wanted). But, I guess no two job searches/search committees/candidates etc. are alike, so perhaps this is understandable.

So, I’ll start from the beginning. You are getting postdoc PMS- and, although you love the lab you are in,…. you think you are ready for an academic job of your own. But what to do first? Well, here are a couple of reasonable ideas..

1. Start reading the ads. Even if you aren’t going to go on the job market tomorrow, it never hurts to educate yourself about what is out there. I personally like Science careers online, which can be found on the web page of the journal ‘Science’. Many, many jobs are listed here, its free to access, and is searchable. Although other top journals also have services like this, I tended to mostly use Science, and all the search committees I have been on (a grand total of 6) have used Science to post ads. I also liked ASM Career Connections (American Society for Microbiology, you have to be a member for this), and for me JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association)- … but I am certain that other specialty journals that focus on a particular field you may be working in will be appropriate.

2. Have a serious talk with your postdoc mentor. If you haven’t discussed with your mentor what projects or parts of projects you are free to take from the lab, this would be the time to have such a conversation. Also, if you trust your mentor to give you career advice, this might be the time to ask that person to give you an honest assessment about your prospects for an academic career. In some cases your postdoc mentor might not be the right person to talk with about your prospects for an academic career- if that is the case, choose someone that you trust to give you an honest assessment- maybe another senior faculty member that you know well.

3. Update your CV, and write a couple of pages about your research interests, and possibly a teaching statement. This paperwork, along with a cover letter, will be your application package. Enlist the help of colleagues whom you trust and know to be good at these things to look over these documents, this is extremely important- you don’t want the search committees’ eyes to be the first pairs of eyes besides your own that look at these documents. SPELL CHECK EVERYTHING…. I know it seems dumb to have to spell that out, but you would be shocked by how many times this doesn’t get done.

A. The CV should be EASY to read (A SAMPLE IS POSTED UNDER THE APPLICATION PACKAGES TAB, UNDER CV) and generally include the following sections (there may be additional sections depending on your background, for example Patents, Service):


Contact Information (it is not necessary to write whether or not you are married or have children in this section- I have seen this, and think it’s not a good idea)

Academic Training

Positions Held

Fellowships and Awards


Invited Presentations

Professional Licenses and Society Memberships

Teaching (both classroom, and individual)


References (names of 3-5 individuals whom you have already asked, and KNOW to be able to provide you a good letter of recommendation – you don’t want any surprises here).

Some candidates also include a list of meetings attended/poster presentations and abstracts submitted- I personally don’t include this information and don’t generally look at it when looking at a bunch of CVs.

B. Research interests should be concise and summarize what project you will focus on and where you will take this project in the first 5 years of your new job. Personally, I like sort of an NIHesque format- research interests written with a brief summary up front, and then broken down in terms of specific aims, with experimental approaches under each aim, then briefly and generally how this will get you toward your long term goals. If you have already written a grant for independent funding- then the hard work of planning for the first 5 years of your faculty position has already been done. DO NOT try to cover everything that you have done and everything that you may, at some point in the near and distant future even think about doing in the statement of research interests. Your goal here is to be focused and convey to the search committee that you have defined a problem you are interested in, it’s an important problem, and you have developed a reasonable approach to this problem that is likely to give a big payoff.

C. Teaching statement. Some institutions have a heavy emphasis on teaching- and they want to know what you see yourself as capable of teaching, and what your ‘teaching philosophy’ is. You are on your own with this one, I don’t have any very good advice- other than to summarize this in no more than 1 page.

4. Start talking to colleagues at meetings/in your department/those that you know in other institutions about what positions may be available currently or in the next couple of years in their departments. It would be a huge mistake to underestimate the power of networking for academic scientists. You never know who is on what search committee at any given moment, and strange coincidences happen all the time. If you are a shy person- email is a great way to approach people about these topics…

Trading Places

The second half of my two-academic-career family (the half that’s better at this) just finished a couple of months of teaching, grants due, papers submitted etc. I was picking up all of the slack at home during that time- and I don’t mind. We have had overlapping grant deadlines before, and our kids forget our names when this happens, it’s just NOT a good thing. … Now he is done, and its my turn. I’ll have June 1 and July 1 deadlines for NIH… and I’m ready for it.

On Monday I submitted my first truly independent paper. Online submission is at once a wonderful and horrible invention. If you have tried this, then what I say needs no explanation. Anyway- I held onto that manuscript longer than I probably should have, but getting that last Western to be perfect (or at least good enough) really took longer than I thought it would (3 weeks), and the efforts of a postdoc AND a graduate student. I have watched my also-an-academic-scientist-husband wait and wait for that last figure so many times in the last 6 years- and be agitated about not having it done… I can totally sympathize. I am irrationally proud of this paper, its just gratifying to take a gene of unknown function, discover that it is important, and figure out what it does… and actually be lucky enough to show it. Now that I said that, I’m sure the paper will come right back. I don’t know what’s going on with it now- I was on vacation with my kids for a few days, and free from all electronics…- so I’ll probably cry on your shoulder about a rejection shortly.

Hopefully I haven’t lost too many readers during my short hiatus…

Learning to ASK

Those of you who know me now, but didn’t know me when I was a Ph.D. student won’t believe this. But, it’s true. Ask anyone who knew me back then. I was a QUIET person… in class, in lab meeting, in seminars, I never said a word… for 5 whole years.


I was afraid. Afraid that I wasn’t smart enough, afraid that I couldn’t do it (the Ph.D.) or wasn’t cut out for it, afraid that would say something stupid and everyone in the room would KNOW I wasn’t cut out for it. Afraid that I was admitted to this distinguished Ph.D. program and Veterinary school by ACCIDENT, and sooner or later they were going to figure out their terrible mistake. Afraid that I had to figure out everything on my own.

But that slowly changed. How? Well, one very fine mentor had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He spent endless amounts of time reading my drafts and listening to my practice talks, changing every slide, not letting me quit the Ph.D. or veterinary school, no matter how bad things were (and they weren’t really that bad, I just had to be dramatic). At my thesis defense, my advisor said some kind words about me,-that I actually listened to –maybe for the first time.

When I returned to veterinary school after the Ph.D., I was different. Something about facing down your thesis committee for 2 hours will do that to a person, I suppose. I stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me- smart or stupid. I started speaking up in class (instead of mumbling an answer to myself), peppering the presenter with questions about techniques and experiments during lab meeting. At a national meeting for my field that I attended, I began a conversation with a senior faculty member that I did not know- and this led to an invitation for a job interview at his institution… and I credit that conversation for setting me up to get the job I have today.

Anyway, what’s my point? Its not that I am gloriously good at this (because I’m still learning)- but that many things improved when I learned how to ask. Don’t wait as long as I did to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to ask people for what you need- whether it’s a protocol, a collaboration, advice on looking for an academic job or being junior faculty. You will be shocked at how forthcoming most scientists are, if you only ASK. And don’t let it stop you if someone doesn’t respond- make sure you ask again!